From the forthcoming launch of “Vogue” Poland to the rise of Tbilisi Fashion Week, fashion media is transfixed by the region — and that’s not going away anytime soon.
The world is small and getting smaller. At least in fashion, and with the same smattering of editors and designers bopping from one magazine or brand to the next, it often seems as if there’s fewer original ideas than there are individuals to execute them. But as the industry once again finds itself enamored by what was on-trend two decades ago, there are moments when that small world doesn’t feel so insular.
Earlier this summer, Condé Nast International discussed its plans to launch a Polish edition of Vogue in 2018. Upon the announcement, it became immediately clear that Vogue Poland — which will be the 23rd international Vogue property — won’t be a corporate, Americanized idea of what a Polish-language Vogue might look like. Not only was the brand created in a partnership with new Polish media venture Visteria, but it also tasked distinctively Polish talent — including newly. minted Editor-in-Chief Filip Neidenthal, who launched Esquire in Poland in 2014 — with heading it up.
Historically, Eastern Europe hasn’t been a hub for Vogue: Prior to VoguePoland, the only two titles in the region included Vogue Russia, which debuted in 1998, and Vogue Ukraine in 2013. Fashion, however, is changing (isn’t it always?) and editorial’s eastward expansion reflects a shift towards globalization that we’ve already seen on the runways.
Poland, for one, has certainly bolstered an environment that can support a fashion publication of Vogue‘s size and reputation. In June, Karina Dobrotvorskaya, president of Condé Nast new markets and editorial director of brand development, told Business of Fashion that the media group had been eyeing the Polish market for several years; only now, with the recent development of Poland’s high-end fashion market, had the timing felt right. As BoF reported then, the nation’s luxury economy is booming: Professional service company KPMG values the local market at 2.2 billion Zloty (about $584 million), and predicts that it will increase an additional 28 percent by 2020. To wit, new fashion media had already landed 800-odd miles east, in the post-Soviet states: When Russian editor and street style magnate Miroslava Duma co-founded her fashion and lifestyle platform Buro 24/7 in 2011, she chose to keep the company based in Moscow where it stayed for six years before moving to London.
Vogue.com Fashion News Writer Liana Satenstein offers that Gvasalia, whose fashion collective Vetements has captivated the industry and driven both runway and mainstream trends since its launch in 2014, is the strongest example. This comes as no surprise: Gvasalia created such immediate buzz that he was hired to replace Alexander Wang at Balenciaga just a year after Vetements showed its first collection.
“When he first came on the scene, most people couldn’t point Georgia, a small Caucasus country, out on a map, let alone understand the post-Soviet, early-’90s nuances that he incorporated in his collections,” says Satenstein. “His collections stirred curiosity in the history and culture of the region. The country has a fledgling group of talents, and Gvasalia just helped shine the light on them.”
Indeed, Gvasalia’s impact has been swift. Net-a-Porter bought big into the so-called “Vetements Effect” shortly after the brand’s debut — then-Vice President of Global Buying Sarah Rutson even said that Gvasalia’s first collection made her feel like her “head was going to explode” when it came down the runway — the aesthetic of which has now become a staple and top-seller within the luxury e-tailer’s inventory.
Fashion magazines have been quick to follow suit. Vetements was a driving force behind Taylor Swift‘s short-lived goth moment, which came courtesy of a certain silver sequined gown in which Vogue styled her for her May 2016 cover shoot. Balenciaga has racked up its own fair share of editorial placements, too. The house’s streetwise wares blew up on last year’s fall issues, landing plum cover spots on several international titles that included Elle Hong Kong, China’s Vogue Me, Vogue UK and Glamour.
Gvasalia’s urban realism is heavily rooted in his own upbringing in Georgia, but it’s also been influenced by what has become of youth culture in the region since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. For countries like Georgia and Russia, this post-Soviet era has fostered an uptick in creativity, much of which is rooted in its heritage. (Though Eastern European countries like Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary were not formal members of the USSR, they still exhibit a cultural pride that’s on par with their post-Soviet neighbors.) This is innate to designers like Gvasalia and Rubchinskiy, but for so much the world, even in fashion, Eastern Europe remains unexplored.
“Eastern Europe is simply a sexy, exotic destination for most people,” says Satenstein. “After all, it was cut off from the world for years so some things are seemed preserved in a time capsule.”
Satenstein references the “noughties,” which can be seen most explicitly in ’90s and early-aughts fixtures like rhinestones, velour or, combining the two, Juicy Couture. Coincidentally, this nostalgia is something to which editorial has paid great attention. Vogue Italia asked Bella Hadid to cut her hair — modeled after Linda Evangelista‘s famous ’90s bob — for her June 2017 cover, while Marc Jacobs‘s two most recent, heavily ’90s-inspired collections have enjoyed placements on the covers of titles ranging from Elle to V.
Rubchinskiy has made a big business out of such retro collaborations, bolstering his own name recognition while partnering with nostalgia-laced brands like Reebok, Vans and Camper. (He’s also teamed up with higher-end labels, namely Burberry, the lookbook for which he revealed in June.)
“Their high-octane perceptions of glamour are a hangover from the early ’90s where it was all about showing off and is far less puritanical and way more over the top than it ever was in the United States,” she says.
Satenstein also points to Eastern Europe’s renowned “underground” nightlife scene as being a point of interest for fashion media, as well as a constant source of inspiration for regional designers.
“It’s been done to death,” she says. “Everyone has known about it for a while, so it’s not technically ‘underground’ anymore. It’s still its own thing, though.”
There’s also the shopping, much of which is comprised of bazaars — and which Satenstein refers to as being “havens for knockoffs.” As publications and websites (this one included) continue to discuss the changing stigma surrounding bootlegging, these markets remain a focal point.
“To this day, you’re going to find knockoff Gucci, Moschino and Chanel, whether you’re in Tbilisi or Kiev,” she says. “There are even plastic bags called ‘paketi’ that are printed with Chanel or Gucci. You won’t really find that in the United States.”
In a fashion sense, Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, is thriving. Vetements was first based in Paris — it’s since moved to 400 miles southeast, to Zurich — but the city became the subject of careful consideration immediately after Gvasalia hit it big.
But as a Caucasus country, Tbilisi is unlike most of its greater Eastern European neighbors, from its near-Mediterranean climate (humid and subtropical) to its dialect (Kartvelian, rather than Slavic). It’s sandwiched between Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and the Black Sea, and thus bridges Western and Eastern cultures in a way that isn’t quite seen anywhere else. Its creativity, of course, is bustling.
The city hosts two fashion weeks, Tbilisi Fashion Week and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi, both of which have seen an exponential increase in global exposure in the last three years; editors now flock to Tbilisi with as much regularity as they do to more Westernized fashion weeks like Copenhagen and Stockholm. Here, Georgian style — which strikes an intriguing balance of foreign and familiar — is on full display, both on the runways and off.
Satenstein foresees Tbilisi becoming a potentially competitive city, but that will still take time. As far as the rest of the region, that’s only matter of time, too: If only based on the predictive success of Vogue Poland, Eastern Europe has the market, the interest and the editorial talent. It’s here to stay.